In the current period of trade wars, it is essential to encourage the younger generations to participate in technological development instead of resigning themselves to the idea that many of today’s jobs will be carried out by robots.
That’s why a multitude of organizations are developing programs to promote careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to make sure that, as a society, we don’t fall behind in the research and development fields, and that we give our young people options for the future with which they can support themselves.
I am one of the volunteers who go to schools to explain the benefits of engineering, and while I don’t have anything to do with the liberal arts (although I enjoy reading a history book as much as anyone else), I feel it is important to understand that, even if you want to be a philologist, you’re going to have to relate to artificial intelligence. Goodbye to pure liberal arts, hello to a fusion of knowledge.
It’s especially necessary to motivate girls to choose this type of careers, because –either for historical reasons or a lack of models or because of prejudices– they are increasingly removed from these kinds of studies, choosing only the bio-sanitary branch. Naturally we need great brains in medicine, but we can’t neglect the technological talent of half of the population. It’s curious, because when you present a robotics workshop to preschoolers or kids in the first few grades, both boys and girls are equally excited when playing with the robots. But in the school years closer to university, there is a notable gender gap.
One of the best tactics for changing this situation is to talk to girls during their secondary education about little-known female scientists –which, to be honest, means just about all of them. It’s tremendously motivating when the girls see themselves reflected in those fabulous scientific pioneers, and imagine how they too can take the next giant step in scientific research. It’s only relatively recently that we’ve begun presenting these workshops on all levels, but the feedback we’re getting indicates that over the next five years there will be more parity in the physics and engineering classrooms.
The situation is improving in many European countries (the UK is one of the places that promotes the most STEM programs for women) and also in the United States, where even Michelle Obama is getting involved with regard to equality among leaders. And it’s also interesting to look eastward: not as far as the Far East but to the Middle East.
This past summer I had the chance to travel to Abu Dhabi with Ibticae S.L., a Spanish engineering consultancy firm that also trains people. We were contracted by the Emirates for a project financed by the Mubadala investment firm aimed at promoting STEM vocations. We’re talking about a country whose young people could study whatever they like but who systematically avoid the sciences. The boys choose to study finance so as to manage family resources, while the girls –unlike in Western countries– do choose the more technical professions (petrochemical engineering, to be exact) although not in large numbers. It’s not that these countries are going to run out of petroleum in the near future, but they realize that to depend on foreign talent to manage their natural resources isn’t the best strategy, and the women are very clear about this.
I think that Ibticae’s work in the region, with a challenge based on drones and the mythical ‘eggdrop,’ will make a significant difference. The students who took part in the program are unanimous: “The best experience of my life. I’m going to be an engineer.”